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One of the main problems facing those who struggle with alcohol is the alcohol-induced headache. This common problem may affect one of the 10.8 million adults in the UK who are drinking at a worrying level.

Alcohol-induced headaches are not only subject to those who have a history of misuse or abuse of alcohol. These types of headaches can strike anyone, of any age and background.

An alcohol-induced headache may fall into many categories and whilst they are painful and unpleasant, there are things that can be done to relieve the symptoms.

In this article, we are going to talk you through everything you need to know about the alcohol-induced headache as a way to better understand how it is caused and how you can help yourself or someone you love to cope with its effects.

Why Do I Get A Headache After Drinking Alcohol?

The single main reason that alcohol is the cause of a headache is that it is what is known as a diuretic.

In simple terms, this means that it has an effect on the kidneys which causes the level of fluid that you are taking in to become lower than what your body is putting out. [1]

In other words, you will go to the toilet more frequently, but the lost liquid will not be as evenly replaced. This contributes greatly to dehydration, which is the cause of your alcohol-induced headache.

Can Alcohol Trigger A Migraine?

Anyone who suffers from regular migraines will know how debilitating they can be, and unfortunately, alcohol can be a huge trigger for this condition. Alcohol is responsible for creating a relaxing effect on the blood vessels. In turn, this leads to more blood being able to flow into the brain, which can trigger a migraine. [2]

It has been seen in many studies all over the world that one-third of those who suffer from regular migraines have noted that alcohol is one of the main things to trigger them off.

What’s In Alcohol That Causes Headaches?

The main ingredient in alcohol that is responsible for a sore head is ethanol. There are a variety of reasons why this potent chemical can cause a headache such as its ability to dilate the blood vessels. Alcohol is a diuretic, causing the body to lose vital salts and minerals which help it to function.

The ingestion of too much ethanol can cause an unhealthy imbalance of chemicals within the body, which over time may lead to more serious conditions than just a headache.

What Are The Types Of Alcohol Induced Headache?

We have already discussed that a migraine is a common headache experienced after drinking alcohol, but the alcohol-induced headache may fall into one of two categories.

1. Immediate Alcohol-Induced Headaches

This type of headache is known as the ‘cocktail headache’ and comes on shortly after taking an alcoholic drink. This type of headache is less common, but many people may notice the symptoms developing within 3 hours of drinking. However, the headache is known to clear after 72 hours of abstinence.

Those suffering from an immediate alcohol-induced headache will likely feel a pulsating sensation, usually on both sides of the head. They will also find that the headache increases in intensity when any physical activity is taken.[3]

2. Delayed Alcohol-Induced Headaches

The most common type of headache caused by alcohol is the delayed headache, which is seen to occur around 12 hours after drinking alcohol. It is frequently referred to as the ‘hangover’ headache. While similar symptoms to the immediate headache are experienced, this type of headache is usually a more dull, throbbing pain.

How Soon After Drinking Can A Headache Begin?

As we have discovered from looking at the types of alcohol-induced headaches, you may experience one from as little as three hours after drinking alcohol.

However, if you tend to suffer more from a delayed headache, you will usually notice the onset around 12 hours after drinking. Although it has been seen that this headache can start from as little as five hours after drinking.

How Long Do Hangover Headaches Last?

For most people, a hangover headache will last no more than 24 hours, with many people finding that a good night’s sleep and plenty of water can relieve their symptoms completely. Unfortunately, some may notice that their headache takes a little longer to go away, this could be up to 72 hours.

How Little Alcohol Is Enough To Cause A Headache?

You may think that a single glass of wine might not be enough to cause an alcohol-induced headache, but this isn’t necessarily true. You may find that one day you can drink a lot of alcohol and not experience a headache at all, yet another day just a few glasses will leave you with a pounding head.

There are varying factors at play that will determine how much is enough. These might include the following:

  • The quality of the alcohol
  • Your current general health
  • How hydrated you are
  • What type of alcohol you are drinking

Which Type Of Alcohol Is Least Likely To Cause A Headache?

Whilst all types of alcohol stand to cause some sort of headache, there may be types that you find you tolerate better than others. This can differ for each person and whilst one may find that spirits cause a headache, another may find that lager doesn’t agree with them.[4]

However, there has been evidence to suggest that vodka is the least likely alcoholic beverage to cause a hangover. Drinking this with mixers such as lemonade or tonic waters can reduce the chances even further. However, it was noted that red wine is the leading culprit when it comes to a headache.

Is Wine Really The Worst Culprit For An Alcohol Induced Headache?

It is widely reported that red wine is the worst culprit for causing an alcohol-induced headache, with white wine being not too far behind in second place. The third worst drink for causing a headache was Champagne.

Some of the things that can be found inside wine may cause some sort of reaction in the person drinking it. Histamine, which is essentially something that can cause an allergic reaction in the body can be found in great quantities in wine, with red wine having up to 200 times more than white wine.

Aside from this, there is some evidence to show that drinks that have been through an aging process are liable to cause more reactions within the body. Wine contains tannins that are found in the skins of the grapes used to make the wine. Whilst many people do not suffer any side effects from ingesting tannins, there are some who find them to be a source of their headaches.

There is a lot of sugar found in wine, which is something else that can play a role in the dehydration associated with alcohol consumption.[5]

Can I Avoid A Headache When Drinking Alcohol?

Of course, the best way to avoid an alcohol-induced headache is to avoid alcohol completely – but we know this isn’t always possible. If you are struggling with how much alcohol you consume, cutting it out altogether may not be the best idea.

Cutting down slowly can eradicate any nasty withdrawal symptoms and ease you into a new way of life. In the meantime, there are steps that you can take in order to reduce your chances of suffering a headache associated with alcohol.

These steps are:

Create a journal of any trigger which leads to a headache.

For example, making a note of what you drink and which days you have a headache will show you what drinks tend to cause more problems for you. By knowing this, you can avoid those drinks.

Drink alcohol at a slower rate, perhaps taking a drink of water between each alcoholic drink. This will ensure that you are better hydrated.

Eating honey before drinking alcohol can reduce the chances of getting a headache due to the high levels of vitamin B6 found within it.

  • Ensure that you are drinking alcohol on a full stomach since this can slow down how quickly your body is able to absorb the chemicals and therefore slow down the effects.

How Can I Cure An Alcohol Induced Headache?

If you find yourself waking up with a headache after drinking alcohol, or if you experience one shortly after drinking, taking care of yourself is crucial.

Here are some steps you can implement to improve an alcohol-induced headache:

  • Taking painkillers such as paracetamol can relieve the pain of a headache
  • Drink plenty of water. Alcohol dehydrates you and this is one of the main causes of the headache. Replacing lost fluids is vital in your recovery
  • Drinking bouillon can help to restore the balance of the body and will be easy to digest as your stomach may be a little delicate.
  • Fresh fruit drinks containing fructose are a great way to create a more even chemical balance within the body
  • Eating certain foods can greatly aid your recovery. You should look to eat things such as eggs, bananas, and spinach all of which will replenish your body’s nutrients

Conclusion

Alcohol can cause many health problems, but one of the most common and less severe is the alcohol-induced headache. These can be very uncomfortable and can be caused by dehydration after consuming alcohol.

Gaining a greater understanding of these headaches can be key in battling them. There are multiple ways in which you can prevent and heal an alcohol-induced headache using natural remedies. Simple things like water and certain types of food can help.[6]

Reducing your alcohol intake is the best way to avoid these headaches completely.

However, if this is something that you find difficult then there are things you can do to reduce the chances of experiencing an unpleasant headache.

Tired of the headaches?

We offer specialist advice on all things relating to addiction, substance abuse, and recovery.

Call us today on 0800 140 4690.

References

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-harmful-drinking-and-alcohol-dependence/

[2] https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/effects-on-the-body/can-alcohol-cause-migraines/

[3] https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-health-migraine-alcohol/

[4] https://ichd-3.org/8-headache-attributed-to-a-substance-or-its-withdrawal/

[5] https://headaches.org/2009/06/26/prevention-and-treatment-for-hangover-headaches/

[6] https://www.neurologyadvisor.com/advisor-channels/headache-migraine-advisor/migraine-and-alcohol-encouraging-a-healthy-balance-of-indulgence-and-vigilance/